The history of halloween and celebrations at SMU
Chelsea Mancilla, Guest writer
Halloween is around the corner. From the purchasing of candy to the readying of costumes, the average American is gearing up for October’s grand finale. But what is Halloween all about, really? With a rich history, and great market success, America’s second largest commercial holiday to Christmas is far more than it seems.
Halloween is observed in several countries around the world. In the United States, it has been an annual holiday since 1920. Yet, the traditions appeared in North America long before there was a United States. Halloween was introduced to the original colonies by European immigrants, primarily those from Ireland and Scotland. Because of the Protestant presence in the Northern colonies, such traditions and beliefs were strongly discouraged. In the Southern colonies however, where there was more ethnic and religious diversity, there are several accounts of Halloween celebrations mixing with Native American harvest celebrations.
Halloween is based off the pagan holiday known as Samhain (pronounced “Sow-en”), which marks the end of the harvest and the end of summer. Celts believed that Samhain was the day when two worlds, the living and the dead, came together. They would prepared for the arrival of both good and evil spirits on this day, using jack-o-lanterns to light the way for good spirits and bonfires to drive away the evil. Masks were used to avoid being recognized by ghosts. People also placed bowls of food outside their homes to appease the ghosts and prevent them from entering. Samhain also incorporated traditions from the Romans. By 43 A.D., the Roman Empire had conquered most Celtic territory. Scholars believe that two festivals of Roman origin were combined with the traditional Celtic celebration. The first festival was Feralia, a day in late October when the Romans traditionally commemorated the passing of the dead. The second was a day to honor Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruit and trees. The symbol of Pomona is the apple, which could explain the common Halloween game of “bobbing” for apples.
Many traditions have evolved from the superstitions and beliefs surrounding Halloween, some of which were meant to help young women find their potential spouses. Young women were told to sit in a dark room in front of a mirror and if they waited long enough, the face of their future husband would appear. Girls were also told to throw apple peelings over their shoulders, in hopes that the peelings would form the initials of their true love. While these beliefs are obsolete today, it is telling of how Halloween was a period of belief in the invisible and in fate.
Unfortunately, delinquents and organizations such as the KKK, often used Halloween as an excuse to engage in criminal activity. It wasn’t until the late 1800s that a movement began in America to mold Halloween into a family-friendly and communal event. Parents were encouraged by newspapers and community leaders to take down any “frightening” or “grotesque” decorations adorning civic centers, classrooms, and private homes. Costuming became popular for Halloween parties in the early 20th century. However, in a surprising turn of events, the traditional act of trick-or-treating was initially met with opposition. Some parents and community leaders believed trick-or-treating was akin to extortion.
Fortunately, by the late ‘30s, vandalism decreased as more children partook in trick-or-treating. The term was coined in a newspaper from Portland, Ore. Anoka, Minnesota was the first city to officially hold a Halloween celebration. Festivities became grander every year, cancelled only during World War II. Anoka is now known as the “Halloween Capital of the World.” Salem, Mass. also lays claim to the title due to its association with witches.
Speaking of celebrations, Saint Martin’s is offering a series of activities and events leading up to Halloween. On Oct. 23, there will be a trip to the pumpkin patch at Schilter Family Farm. On Oct. 24, pumpkin carving will be offered at the TUB. Saint Martin’s students have also planned an annual event known as Community Halloween, for community members in the Charneski Recreation Center, or the Rec. Students are encouraged to participate. This year, Community Halloween is Oct. 27, at 10 a.m.–and don’t forget Saint Martin’s Spooktacular event on Oct. 31, in Cebula’s third floor.
Armed with a deeper understanding of its origins and a wealth of information on campus holiday events, may Saint Martin’s students have a Happy Halloween!